Today I said good-bye to Sassy. She was my first Maine Coon, my first purebred cat, my introduction into the world of the cat fancy. As my vet relieved her from the mammary cancer which had taken over her body, I thanked Sassy for all she has given me in the past 12 years.We got Sassy about the same time we obtained our Golden Retriever, Chardonnay. The two remained friends all these years although Chardonnay has picked up a few more feline friends through the years. I’d always assumed Chardonnay would go first, but other than an arthritic knee that slows her down, the dog is doing okay.
As a kitten, Sassy was simply beautiful with rabbit-soft fur and a painted-on classic tabby pattern. She developed into a large female, a fact the judges noticed, earning her the title of a CFA Grand Champion in three shows. She later earned the title of Distinguished Merit by producing five kittens who were also shown to Grand Champion. Through Sassy, I met my fellow Maine Coon fanciers and became hooked, for better or worse, as a breeder and exhibitor of a one of the most popular kinds of cats.
For the first five years of sharing our home with Sassy, she was a breeding female. It was during this time period that Sassy taught me so much. I learned to read Sassy’s expressive face, the intelligence in her eyes penetrating beyond, almost like she was trying to communicate with me telepathically. I knew when Sassy was experiencing PMS and when she was in the early stages of labor just by the intensity of color in her pink nose. I learned that an intact cat is a whole different animal, a victim of their hormones. Having now known many Maine Coon mothers, I realize that Sassy remains the smartest and most diligent when it comes to caring for newborn kittens. Cats are naturally good mothers, and unlike their canine counterparts, very conscientious about not lying down on a baby. When Sassy had her first litter, two red girls, she was exhausted afterward. But rather than lying down and resting, she slept sitting up, afraid of hurting the little beings who clung to her belly.
Newborn kittens wander around the nesting area blindly crying when separated from their littermates or their mother. Most cat moms will call to their babies to try to get them to come to them where they lie nursing the rest of the litter. The kitten has no idea, being blind and deaf, where mom is and can spend a lot of time crying and crawling in circles. Sassy is the only queen I’ve seen who actually reached out to her wandering kitten with her paw and pulled it into her. Once when she couldn’t reach the straggler, she got up and carried the kitten back to the rest of the brood. It seems like common sense to a watching human, but cats just don’t seem to know what to do.
When the Japanese photographer Tetsu Yamasaki and his wife Hiroko, came to our home this summer to do a photo shoot, Sassy was the first to greet them. Hiroko fell in love with “the old one” and had her pose for pictures also. It was only fitting that Sassy’s picture made it on page 18 of Tetsu’s Cat’s Catalog for 2014, just above a picture of her 5-week-old great, great grandchildren. Her granddaughter was on the cover of the same catalog in 2005.
Sassy has struggled for the past several years with Irritable Bowel. She was diagnosed with asthma and cancer in May. After talking to others who’d gone through the same cancer diagnosis with their cats and given Sassy’s other ailments, we decided against surgery as treatment for the mammary tumors. Sassy took Prednisone for her asthma and I’ve just kept watch for signs of discomfort. Her decline became increasingly apparent the past couple of weeks. For any of my kitten buyers who have one of Sassy’s descendants as a pet, you have the reassurance that breast cancer is much less likely in females spayed before the age of one year and therefore your cats fall into a low risk group.
Sassy’s legacy carries on in Tippet, the one breeding descendant I still have. Tippet doesn’t have the same face as her great-grandmother, but she does carry the gorgeous pattern, spunk and opinionated intelligence.
So for Tippet, I thank Sassy. For opening the door of the cat fancy world for me, I thank Sassy. For being our dog’s first buddy and proving that cats really do rule and dogs drool, I thank Sassy. For allowing a 6-year-old Kelsey to hoist her up to the top bunk every night and remain with her head sharing the pillow until the child fell asleep, I thank Sassy. For the 17 kittens she gave us, I thank Sassy. For all the kittens she grandmothered after she retired from breeding, I thank Sassy. For her love of occupying empty boxes, no matter how small, I thank Sassy. For inspiring awe when prospective kitten buyers came over and saw how friendly, affectionate, and awesome a female Maine Coon could be, I thank Sassy. After 12 years I wouldn’t trade for anything, I have to love and respect her enough to let her go.